Daily Archives: 16 March 2008

Romania’s Growing Bear Problem

Romania has a large and growing bear problem, reports Doug Saunders in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Elsewhere in Europe, bears are almost non-existent. In 2006, Germany saw its first wild bear in 170 years, which the media named Bruno and became a major celebrity until he was abruptly shot by hunters last June.

But Romania, which last year became the European Union’s newest member (along with neighbouring Bulgaria), is the lone European country that is experiencing the opposite problem.

“It’s fair to say that our bear population is well above its natural level, and it is increasing far too fast,” says Serban Negus, who studies bears for the Brasov-based Forest Research Institute.

Romania’s central forests and mountains are home to between 5,000 and 5,500 bears, by Mr. Negus’s estimate, and that population is growing by 10 per cent, or about 500 bears, every year. This has led to a series of unfortunate encounters between humans and bears….

Under the 34-year dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, bears were kept safe: He made bear hunting a serious offence to make the entire bear population available for hunting parties he held for his close friends and comrades. As a result of that legacy, Romanians remain wary of bear hunting….

Romania’s bear population is kept in check through an ingenious policy devised by the government: It allows wealthy Europeans, especially Germans and Italians, to hunt the bears during seasons that span half the year.

In exchange for this rare hunting privilege, they pay a licence fee of between $15,000 and $23,000 per bear, depending on its size. That has been good for the tourist industry, and it’s brought badly needed revenues to this poor country’s coffers.

But the policy simply hasn’t produced results. Romania allows just over 300 bear licences each year, which isn’t enough according to biologists, and most years it hasn’t managed to sell all of them.

For lack of enough old Ceausescu hunting cronies or rich foreign hunters to keep the bear population under control, some conservationists have proposed resettling them in the now Braunbärrein forests of Central and Western Europe.

But the logistics are extremely difficult: Aside from the mountainous regions of the Alps and Carpathians, where bears tend to thrive, there are few places in Europe where they wouldn’t be poking their snouts in human settlements.

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Albania’s Leftover Weapons Problem

Albania’s ample supplies of leftover weapons and ammo have helped fuel the violence in Kosovo. And they’re also fueling explosions within its own borders.

The blast flattened the village of Gerdec and caused widespread destruction over a square mile (kilometer and a half), leaving a huge crater.

It highlighted Albania’s woes in trying to destroy some 100,000 tons of explosives, remnants of its communist past. Authorities say most of the ammunition was Russian and Chinese artillery shells made in the 1960s.

Albania, which is hoping to join the NATO military alliance, has seen similar accidents in the past. In one such case three years ago, careless handling of ammunition killed a military officer.

“This was bound to happen,” a Western military official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. “There are depots in much worse condition around the country.”

More than 100 other depots storing excess ammunition dot Albania, many of them in heavily populated areas.

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First Catholic Church in Qatar

The first Catholic church, Our Lady of the Rosary, has opened its doors in Qatar, but lacks any external signs of being a church.

“The cross should not be raised in the sky of Qatar, nor should bells toll in Doha,” wrote Lahdan bin Issa al-Muhanada, a leading columnist in Doha’s Al-Arab newspaper.

But Abdul Hamid al-Ansari, the former dean of the Islamic law school at Qatar University, disagrees. He wrote that having “places of worship for various religions is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Islam.”…

In Doha, the call to build a Catholic church has grown as waves of migrant workers from South Asia and the Philippines arrived in the Gulf, answering the call for cheap labor to fuel the region’s runaway economy.

But the Christian immigrants have sometimes collided with the native Qatari population, which practices Wahhabism, a strict interpretation of Islam.

Native Qataris account for only 200,000 of the country’s population of 900,000.

The Vatican estimates there are 100,000 practicing Catholics in Qatar. They attended underground services until seven years ago, when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the country’s current ruler, granted permission to five denominations to open churches.

I’m old enough to remember when new Protestant churches in Franco’s Spain were prohibited from displaying the usual church architecture, opening schools, or evangelizing in public.

Nowadays there’s a big shortage of mosques in Spain.

via Belmont Club

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